February 2018 meeting

We began with a sitting practice, taking our seat with mindful awareness of our posture and our body - doing a mini body-scan from our feet on the ground to the top of our heads, then sweeping back down with proprioceptive awareness of our bodies in space. Then setting an intention for the practice, reminding ourselves that setting an intention 'on the cushion' can always be carried into our days and our lives. So, for instance, we can set our intention in the sitting to 'practice with kindness' or 'with a peaceful heart', and this helps set our 'compass', and we can return to this again and again throughout our day whenever we remember and come back. We followed with three deeper breaths, letting go on the out breath of whatever tension is residing in the body. Then moving to a soothing breathing rhythm (as described in Gilbert & Choden p.192 ff and Van den Brink and Koster p.48 -49), intentionally breathing light and warmth and space through the heart area, possibly placing the hand on the heart or belly area, maybe letting a soothing image or colour come into awareness. Moving then to compassionate embodiment. Acknowledging the body as it is with whatever pain is here - physical or emotional - whatever comes up - and bringing to mind a wish such as, "may I be free from pain", "may I have clarity", "may I have courage". Let the wish flow from the heart into the body, in time with the breath, breathing into the pain area, if that is possible. If others are involved in the pain and suffering, acknowledge their suffering by holding a wish of goodwill such as, "may you be safe" or possibly the joint wish, "may we have courage".  Coming back at the end of the practice to intention - we may wish to remind ourselves of our intention at the start of the practice and set our intention to follow this through into our day. We may also wish to frame a larger intention in keeping with our lives and our values - something like  "to live with a courageous heart" - to help guide us through our days.

We followed the practice with enquiry, covering such things as 'scattered mind' and then moving into a general enquiry of the previous few weeks. We spoke of common obstacles to practice such as routine breaking, procrastination. In a talk on 'The Mindfulness and Meditation Summit', a recent online 'Sounds True' broadcast and publication, Leo Babauta spoke of the obstacles to habit change, i.e., putting off, stopping and not starting again, rationalisation  ("I'm too tired" etc.), harshness around 'failure' ("I'm no good at meditating") and uncertainty of our our own worth or value ("Am I a good enough person?"). He described how mindfulness itself can help with such obstacles - e.g., staying mindfully with the urge to put off, noticing your rationalisations, seeing them as clouds that pass, using compassion to deal with self-harshness, staying gently with those feelings of uncertainty about ourselves. One could add that being aware of the universality of all these reactions and feelings can also help with seeing these obstacles for what they are - common experiences of the human condition, to be acknowledged, softened and worked with.

We looked at how we try to bring compassion and mindfulness into our everyday lives.  We shared our experience of working with difficult but common emotions such as irritation and impatience. What seems helpful is staying with the emotion by noting it, feeling it ( e.g the surge of anger or irritation accompanied by the constriction In the throat, the churning in the gut, the bracing of the shoulders) experiencing its presence, rather than straight away reacting to it in a futile attempt to make it go away! Allowing it to shift and change - making that space for a more considered response.

We discussed Pema Chödrön's 'Compassionate Abiding' practice which is a softer, more on-the-spot version of 'tonglen' (see January's session), bringing compassion into everyday difficult situations, including watching horrific events on our news feeds. The practice simply involves breathing in whatever feelings crop up within the body-mind - and breathing and sending out whatever would seem to lessen the suffering ..a generous heart, an openness to the suffering. From this action can come.

We ended with a poem by Wendell Berry, read by Jack Kornfield at the close of the recent online 'Sounds True' summit:-

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.